Fuzzy Matters: Pets and Happiness by Kate Rich
If you ask any college student what they miss most about home their answer will usually be either food or a pet. For me it’s my dog, Tilda. I Skype her when I’m sad, my mom sends me pictures of her right before an exam, she’s my phone wallpaper, and I have a framed picture of her on my bedside table. I’m not kidding; she’s like my child, and I know others who are the same. Pets play a crucial role in our lives and our mental well-being, even if they aren’t ours, the act of petting a dog or cat lowers blood pressure, aleviates stress, and increases empathy and compassion.
Physical contact is a very important part of maintaining mental health, and while you may have super supportive and loving friends and family, nobody has time to have a snuggle-party every night, as much as we would like to. That’s where dogs come in. Let’s face it, they always have time for love, it’s kind of their main job. The act of hugging a person releases many different hormones in our brains that make us feel good, hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. Petting or snuggling a pet does the same thing; it makes people feel physically better and even reduces stress by reducing cortisol levels. Especially for college students where extreme levels of stress are just a part of the day to day, physical contact is so important. Then add the fuzziness, cute little noses, and the tiny outfits (if you’re into that sort of thing) and you have a perfect little bundle of stress-relief and happiness.
Having a pet can be helpful even if life, after college, most likely, is relatively stress free. Having a dog forces physical exercise and fresh air, which, in turn, increases the quality of life, and may even assist in creating new social relationships (101 Dalmatians anyone?). The added relationship between the animal and the person is enough to take attention off of personal problems even for a moment and prevent rumination on distressing thoughts. The bond between pet and human can be an essential part of anyone’s life, and it is so different from a human to human relationship. Dog’s don’t judge you for not putting on real pants all day or eating a PB&J for dinner as any friend hopefully would and having that nonjudgmental, supportive figure can be essential for anyone.
It is important to note that although this non-critical relationship is important, it cannot replace the need for human intervention if PB&J dinners happen every night. Animals live in one moment, and that sense of living for the now is something that we all need in this era that puts so much emphasis on planning for the future and being ‘successful’ in material and monetary terms. To be with an animal and to live in the moment of playing fetch, dinner-time, or just napping can alleviate the anxiety of planning and looking past the present to seeing how beautiful the here and now can be.
Besides the scientific proof pertaining to the benefits of having a pet, the lessons that they teach us are invaluable. Empathy, positivity, and most importantly; unconditional love. There will never be a time when Tilda is not excited to see me, and there will never be a time when she will not love me with complete and total devotion, and that is enough.